22 March 2003

Zambia: World Water Day Tackles Future Threats


SINCE the year 1993, March 22 has been celebrated as World Water Day to highlight the importance of water to life.

This was after the United Nations General Assembly recommended that governments around the world had the duty of reminding their peoples on the importance of the commodity.

It was unanimously agreed that water was indispensable to the development of man and his environment.

The name "water" itself rings no bell in some minds because apparently we have too much of it in Zambia to worry, or do we really?

The privileged few in our society enjoy the bubble bath occasionally while the majority who can not afford settle for a dam splash if not the common shower.

But the question is: Should we continue abusing water or should we jealously guard it as a limited resource?

The theme of this year's World Water Day reads "Water for the future" befitting the fact that future generations are likely to suffer due to the current water abuse.

The last century saw a massive birth of thirsty industries that swallowed vast volumes of natural fresh water while spitting contaminated water.

Subsequently, the used water became unfit for human consumption, toxic to plants and aquatic life.

The end result is that it lost value, contrary to the purposes intended by the Creator.

According to the UN resolution, governments ought to protect the rights of people and their environment where water is concerned.

"The people's rights are a major boost in efforts to achieve the millennium development goals of halving the number of people without access to water and sanitation by 2015 - two pre-requisites for health," according to World Health Organisation director-general Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland.

As the adage goes, we can not escape this reality, we may not know how the earth was created but one thing is for sure, that what we do to it; we do to ourselves.

The biggest worry in the world now is that even the most pure of water contained in the aquifer or ground water reserves is now being contaminated.

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) reports: "Ground water: the invisible and endangered resource records that half the water used for domestic and irrigation purposes comes from the aquifer."

Over the centuries, pollutants have continued to penetrate to the aquifer creating what is being called the chemical time bomb in the scientific circles.

At the moment, two of the world's major food producers, the US and India now suffer from salinisation. This means that ground water is becoming too salty for consumption and for irrigation. Chemical fertiliser, human waste and industrial chemicals are the major causes of this problem.

Closer to home, Lusaka has had a number of reports of groundwater contamination.

The industrial area in the capital has had a number of boreholes abandoned because of contamination from petroleum products according to the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ).

On the Copperbelt, Kabwe and other mining towns we cannot do away with this problem because of the nature of business in these towns.

Commercial farming areas are also areas that have to be looked at. There is also an issue of damp sites that have been placed in high water table areas.

Concerns must be raised because water contamination is actually taking place.

"Zambia must institute efforts that will tackle this growing problem," WWF country co-ordinator Monica Chundama said, adding that there was need to consider river basin management.

" Water should be managed sustainably for various activities like power generation, processing in industries and for domestic purposes.

"It is for this reason that stakeholders should join hands in ensuring that they strike a balance in water management and quality," she said.

At a global level, contamination denies some 3.3 billion people access to clean water, and 2.5 billion people have no water sanitation services. In developing countries an estimated 90 per cent of waste water is discharged without treatment into rivers and streams.

This results into over 250 million cases of water related illnesses, and some 5-10 million deaths each year.

Diseases such as malaria, cholera, dysentery, schistosomiasis, infectious hepatitis and diarrhoea are most common.

Two UN officials Carol Bellamy and Nitin Desai once cautioned that if a child lacks water that is fit for drinking and sanitation, then every aspect of their health and development is at risk.

This year's World Water Day theme has brought relief to their concerns in that the future generations who are the young ones today have been considered.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the lead UN agency for World Water Day 2003.

The goal is to inspire political and community action and encourage greater global understanding of the need for more responsible water use and conservation.

World Water Day will be a highlight of the Third World Water Forum (16-23 March 2003, Kyoto, Shiga and Osaka, Japan), which is itself a key event of the UN International Year of Freshwater. Discussions at the forum in Kyoto will focus on the launch of the World Water Development report, the first-ever UN system-wide effort to monitor progress against targets in such fields as health, food, ecosystems, cities, industry, energy, risk management, water valuation, resource sharing, knowledge base construction and governance.

The French saying "L'eau est la vie" simply meaning water is life hems from the understanding that access to clean and safe water is a human right.

Water is an essential element for achieving other human rights, especially the rights to adequate food and nutrition, housing and education. Inadequate water and sanitation is a major cause of poverty and the growing disparity between rich and poor.

The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, affordable, physically accessible, safe and acceptable water for personal and domestic uses.

It requires them to adopt national strategies and plans of action which will allow them to move expeditiously and effectively towards the full realisation of the right to water.

"These strategies should be based on human rights law and principles. They must cover all aspects of the right to water and the corresponding obligations of countries," Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland said.

Many children, especially girls, lack safe water and toilet facilities at schools. This is impeding their education and development as the water managers of the future.

To solve this problem, the Ministry of Education and Unicef are supporting a school sanitation and hygiene education (SSHE) programme funded by Ireland AID, Norad, the Dutch government, USAID, and AusAID that is currently running in seven countries.

In this light, it is important that the nation takes proactive measures to reverse the current water depletion and contamination.

And though curative measures can be time-consuming and costly for developing countries like Zambia, they are unavoidable.

We can invest in the future by investing into the sanity and availability of fresh water.

After all, water is life. Let us conserve it!

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